EVERY player looks forward to putting on his jersey for the first time that year.
However, few will look forward to that occasion more than Kevin Naiqama, who will put on a Wests Tigers jersey for the first time at the 2015 Auckland Nines.
Having chalked up his third club in as many seasons, the former Knight and Panther finished the year in Penrith’s competition-winning NSW Cup side, and made the move to Concord hungry for a return to first-grade football.
On the books for over two months at Wests Tigers now, Naiqama says he can’t wait to put on the Club’s jersey for the first time and show exactly what he can do.
“It’s awesome to be going to the Nines,” said Naiqama during the week. “I think it’s a really good concept for the game, and it’s great for the fans.
“Obviously everyone’s a bit skeptical with the injuries that can happen, but I guess that’s the same for every game and training session.
“It’s exciting, and I’m honestly counting down the days until I can play.
“It’ll be my first chance to put on the Wests Tigers jersey and play with the boys I’ve been training with, so for me, that’s going to make it extra special.
“I’m really excited to play footy again at a new club and try to put on a good impression for the coaches here as well as the fans.”
Since debuting for Newcastle in 2011, Naiqama hasn’t played more than 10 first-grade games in season — scoring seven tries in eight games for Wayne Bennett’s side in 2012.
The Fijian international quickly moved to Penrith a year later to follow his brother Wes — scoring seven tries in eight games there as well — but by his own admissions, never truly settled at the foot of the mountains.
Yet at a new club, with a new coach and a new squad, now he does.
“It’s been awesome so far at the Club,” enthused Naiqama.
“All the boys have made it heaps easy for me to fit in and settle in. They’ve been really welcoming too, and it’s also really good for me to be closer to home. It’s not too far to travel, so I’m really liking it here and the new challenge.
“I’ve moved around a lot, but I feel at home here.
“This is probably the youngest team I’ve been involved in, which is probably the biggest difference to before,” he said. “I tried to work it out the other day and I’m think I’m the second or third oldest back here — these young guys makes me feel like an old man!
"So I think having so many talented young guys here has definitely kept me on my toes, but that’s a really good thing to have at a club.
“Because everyone is so young, there’s just such a good vibe at training.”
With so much young talent at the Club, the 24-year-old Naiqama said that he was well aware of the challenge that stood in front of him to make his way into first-grade again, but was also clear on his desire to return to the NRL.
“Yeah, I had a little personal chat with JT [Jason Taylor] before Christmas and he asked me what my goals were and aspirations were at the Club,” he said.
“I just said that I wanted to cement a first-grade spot. This is my third club in as many years, so I really just want to settle down now and find a place here.
“And then we had the training just before Christmas in Wollongong with all the boys, which was really good, and JT said that if I can keep doing what I’ve been doing so far, there’s no reason why that goal can’t become a reality.
“At the same time though, I know that I need to prove myself.
"There’s two really strong wingers here in Nof [David Nofoaluma] and Pat Richards, and I know that they both deserve a starting spot, so it’s up to me to prove that I deserve it more.
“I guess I might get that chance early in the year if Nof isn’t quite right for Round 1, which we won’t know until a bit closer to the start of the season.
"You don’t like seeing anyone get injured, and I hope that he gets back on the field soon, but if given a crack at first-grade in Round 1, I would be over the moon.
“Every year I’ve always started in reserve grade, so to get started from Round 1 would be a real boost for me. From there, it would just be hard work and all on me to really cement my spot and show that I deserve it.
“The body is feeling really good, though, and I really feel like I’m a lot stronger, fitter and faster than what I’ve ever been at the start of the year.